Remote work can bring significant benefits to a company by allowing it to look beyond its headquarters to attract top talent. Companies open to remote employment experience access to a larger talent pool, lower overhead costs, and improved productivity. Employees who telework have reported lower stress levels and higher productivity. Remote employment has grown by 140% since 2005 with 4.3 million employees working from home at least half the time.
However, remote employees are also a workforce that often face a unique set of challenges in the workplace, leading them to feeling shunned and left out. To retain remote talent, employees who telework need to be considered in your diversity and inclusion initiatives. With the right tools, principles, and thoughtfulness, leaders can engage remote employees from anywhere. Three of Cook Ross’ remote employees — Cory Schneider (who has teleworked for five years), Shayne Bauer-Ellsworth (who has teleworked for 16 years), and Michael Thompson (who has teleworked for 18 years) — provide six tips to be more inclusive of remote employees.
1. Create a positive mindset around remote employees. “If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, ‘Well, if you were here more often’ or ‘You’re not here very often’, I could have retired after my second year of remote employment” says Shayne. Linking value to being present in-person puts a lot of responsibility and onus on remote employees to continually feel they must prove their value or their worth. Be aware of subtle comments that are made or micro-behaviors that impact remote employees. Leaders should address these behaviors to ensure remote employees are being seen (literally and figuratively) as those who work in the organization’s office. Telework should be framed as an opportunity for a company to attract top talent, offer additional benefits, or create flexible working arrangements for caregivers and others.
2. Pause to consider who isn’t in the room. While technology has helped to bridge many gaps and bring remote employees into meeting rooms, in highly relational organizations, a lot of things happen before or after meetings. Sidebar conversations in the hallways or briefly stepping into someone’s office can’t be avoided. When you notice that this is happening and a remote employee may be impacted by a side conversation, consider pausing to invite them to join by phone or chat so they are given the same opportunity to participate. If this isn’t possible, ensure there is a method to collect the information to be shared with remote team members afterwards.
3. Ensure information is communicated equitably. People managers and individual contributors need to take on the personal responsibility to ensure internal communications are distributed equitably. Having structured communication systems that consistently distribute internal communications across the entire organization is key. Video communication is also crucial as there are often dynamics in a room that are not communicated over the phone line. The type of meeting or scope of work can define what is the most appropriate communication style for a given meeting. For example, a meeting which is presentation heavy may rely on phone without video, versus a brainstorming meeting in which video would be helpful.
4. Set expectations for what remote employment is and is not. Leaders needs to be deliberate and open about remote employment, what expectations are around remote employees, and consistently discuss the importance of remote employment to the company. If this openness does not exist, in-person employees can often become resentful of remote employees due to the misconception that remote employment is a privilege, rather than best business practice.
5. Design accessible meetings. It is important to design and prepare team meetings in which not only is the technology accessible, but the structure of the meeting as well. Meetings should provide a similar, if not the same, experience for remote employees and in-person employees. For example, if a large meeting has breakout sessions, consider how those break outs are experienced by remote employees. Design meetings that go beyond the technology, and ensure they are designed for everyone to participate in the same way. Carefully consider agenda items and key issues that require input and then leverage the technology tools and functionality to allow remote team members to participate fully. For example, if you intend to give some time for people to side bar or collaborate during the meeting, take advantage of virtual break out rooms so that remote participants have the same opportunity to process and debrief in small groups.
6. Promote a means to build social capital. Just like in-person employees, remote employees need to gain social capital in their organizations. Organizations often lose remote talent because they put the onus to build relationships and network on the remote employee, rather than those who are in the office every day. Develop online onboarding plans for new employees in which individual team members are charged to schedule time with new hires. Consider creating virtual watercoolers, such as an internal social media platform, where all employees can contribute to conversations and build relationships.
Recruiting remote workers is a smart business practice that considerably increases an organization’s ability to hire diverse top talent. To retain and capitalize on that talent, organizations will need to consider how to be more inclusive of individuals who telework. While diversity and inclusion is a difficult journey, remote employees do need your consideration in your D&I initiatives for your organization to cultivate a truly inclusive workforce.